The Duston School

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by The Duston School's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from The Duston School is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Principal Sam Strickland
The ethos and culture of
the school are positive and
underpinned by a well-
understood set of values
The local authority in Northamptonshire has gone bankrupt
in recent times. In this environment, schools in the area
have faced some challenges – among them is The Duston
School, a mixed all-through school and sixth form. Principal Sam
Strickland has decided to implement a series of measures which
have improved the school in all areas. He tells
The Parliamentary
more about these processes and what sort of challenges
he and the school must surmount in order to continue their
journey of progression.
We’re a large all-through school, with almost 1,700 students on board. Upon my
assuming responsibility in April 2017, the school had just suffered a blow from
Ofsted – it went from being ‘outstanding’ to ‘requires improvement’. Immediately
upon my arrival, it was my ambition to bring the school back up to ‘outstanding.’
Things were not in a good state: Culture, behaviour and the curriculum called
for significant improvements if the school was to have any chance of reaching its
former status.
A culture of improvement
Over the last couple of years, it has been my ambition to create a cultural climate
and to forge an ethos that provides the school not only with a strong sense of
identity, but also makes behaviour impeccable. This, we have every reason to
believe, the school has gone a long way in achieving. Ofsted, for example, has
commented on how favourably things have progressed in the areas of welfare,
leadership, behaviour, among other things. Across the board, we have made
»Principal: Sam Strickland
»Founded in 2007
»Located in Duston,
»Type of school: Mixed all-
through school and sixth form
»No. of pupils: 1200 main
school, 210 sixth form, 270
primary phase and a total
»The school converted to
become an academy in 2012
and opened a new primary
phase in 2015
The Duston School
Highlighting best practice
significant improvements, with four
out of six Ofsted judgements being
either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.
For this academic year, the focus is
on strengthening the pedagogical
culture. We want to ensure that the
delivery of the lessons is nothing short
of optimal, and to meet this goal we
are redesigning the curriculum. The
hope is that we can alter the balance
away from it being overly skills-based
and instead add more emphasis on
knowledge acquisition.
One of the measures we introduced
to change the school culture was the
strengthening of the pastoral system,
ensuring every child is catered for
and that no issue is left unresolved.
Another step we took was changing
the mission statement, basing it
around raising aspirations for the
school. It now reads: “Our core aim
is to help students climb the tree of
knowledge.” Part and parcel with this
effort has been a focus on excellent
leadership and integrity. The results of
this general effort have been increased
morale and better outcomes.
Ultimately, we want the children at
The Duston School to be the very best
that they can be. To help achieve this,
we had to bring in a series of non-
negotiables to improve behaviour.
Our rules centre around the concepts
of resilience, aspiration and respect.
For example, we want all our children
to complete all of their work to the
best of their ability, and we let the
children know this whenever we can,
be it in assembly, in form or through
other visual depictions throughout
Bringing out the best in our
However, this transformation is not a
wholly top-down process. We wanted
to ensure that in doing this we also
formed a bond with the children.
To this end, we make sure teachers
engage in high-end training that
allows them to be personable and
friendly form tutors for the pupils,
helping them wherever and whenever
they may have problems. In some
sense, we’re aiming for them to
become in-house parents. To foster
this, we’ve ensured that the children
have the same form tutor throughout
their entire school journey.
The house system is also a success in
transforming the culture. It’s based
around trees that run vertically from
primary to secondary, all the way
through to sixth form. These trees
are called Maple, Chestnut, Oak and
Our primary curriculum
is well-planned and
aspirational, and
expectations are high.
Consequently, pupils
attain highly in early
years and Key Stage 1
Pastoral care is a
strength of the school.
Pupils say they feel safe,
supported and cared for
There is a new
wave of
optimism at
the school
Ofsted 2018
Willow. The heads of the houses (who
are teachers) report to an assistant
principal, and each house also has an
assistant head of house who assists
in overseeing the whole system. Each
house, moreover, has their own sixth
form house captain and a vice captain
from year 11, which encourages
responsibility as they grow older. All
of this goes a long way in promoting a
culture of togetherness and aspiration,
as the houses that perform well receive
recognition for their efforts.
Lacking in provision and
difficulties in recruitment
We face a number of challenges in
terms of the provision that’s now
available to us. Wider services that
were once useful to us are now
becoming less and less available.
For example, educational welfare
officers or counsellors for students
are all decreasing in number. Being
in Northamptonshire also (as one
may have read in the news recently)
is challenging, as the local authority
has undergone serious financial
difficulties – which has had not
insignificant knock-on effects for us.
For us, therefore, we have to look out
for ourselves and be smart with our
budgets. We would prefer, however,
that more support was available.
Recruitment is also challenging – not
just for us, but for schools around the
country. Retention, too, is something
of a national issue, so we have done
what we can to improve the situation
at school so that teachers don’t
feel put off by the profession. Part
of this involves looking at how we
can reduce the burden for teachers
without negatively impacting the
children’s learning. Smart feedback
and marking systems, as well as
centralised detention systems, a
sensible approach to emails and
lashings of faculty meeting time,
help teachers sleep at night. CPD has
also been a crucial component of
More and more, we are seeing
the fruits of our labour. Significant
progress is being made by all groups,
particularly in GCSE. As far as we’re
concerned, the sky is the limit. We’re
improving our processes, finding
efficiencies and making children proud
of being here, and we will continue
improving in this fashion for as long as
it’s possible. Once we have achieved
what we have set out to, we will begin
looking into joining a multi-academy
trust, rather than being the single one
that we are today. Exciting days lie
ahead for The Duston School.
progress is
being made
by all groups;
as far as we’re
the sky is the
The leadership of the
sixth form is effective.
Students receive good-
quality eaching and
support, enabling them
to achieve well

This article was sponsored by The Duston School. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss

Even by the standards of the day –this has been one of the most exciting and unpredictable years in British politics.

The leadership election we’ve just seen marks a huge moment in our country’s history. This government is taking a decisive new direction, embracing the opportunities of Brexit and preparing our country to flourish outside the EU.

As international trade secretary, I’ll be driving forward work on the free trade agreements that are going to be a priority for the government. Free trade isn’t just an abstract concept bandied around by technocrats. It is crucial for a strong economy and for the ability of families to make ends meet. Free trade benefits people in every part of our country, as British firms export to new markets and people doing the weekly shop have access to a wider choice of goods at lower prices.

The essence of free trade is in the title: freedom. It’s about giving people the power to exchange their goods without heavy government taxation or interference. Commerce and free exchange are the engine room of prosperity and social mobility. I’m determined to tackle the forces who want to hold that back.

One of my priorities is agreeing an exciting new free trade deal with the US, building on the great relationship between our two countries and the Prime Minister and US President. But I’ll also be talking to other partners including New Zealand, Australia and fast-growing Asian markets.

And with the EU too, we want a friendly and constructive relationship, as constitutional equals, and as friends and partners in facing the challenges that lie ahead – a relationship based on a deep free trade agreement. Our country produces some of the world’s most successful exports, and the opportunity to bring these to the rest of the world should make us all excited about the future. It is this excitement, optimism and ambition which I believe will come to define this government.

For too long now, we have been told Britain isn’t big or important enough to survive outside the EU – that we have to accept a deal that reflects our reduced circumstances. I say that’s rubbish. With the right policies in place, we can be the most competitive, free-thinking, prosperous nation on Earth exporting to the world and leading in new developments like AI. To do that, we’ll give the brilliant next generation of entrepreneurs the tools they need to succeed. Since 2015, there has been a staggering 85 per cent rise in the number of businesses set up by 18 to 24 year olds – twice the level set up by the same age group in France and Germany. We’ll help them flourish by championing enterprise, cutting taxes and making regulation flexible and responsive to their needs.

As we do that, we’ll level up and unite all parts of the UK with great transport links, fibre broadband in every home and proper school funding, so everyone shares in our country’s success.

2019 has been the year of brewing economic and political revolution. 2020 will be the year when a revitalised Conservative government turbo charges the economy, boosts prospects for people across the country, and catapults Britain back to the forefront of the world stage.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss
Secretary of State for International Development